5 Easy Ways to Write an Irresistible Introduction
This handout will explain the functions of introductions, offer strategies for creating effective introductions, and provide some examples of less effective introductions to avoid.
Introductions and conclusions can be the most difficult parts of papers to write. Usually when you sit down to respond to an assignment, you have at least some sense of what you want to say in the body of your paper. You might have chosen a few examples you want to use or have an idea that will help you answer the main question of your assignment; these sections, therefore, may not be as hard to write. And it’s fine to write them first! But in your final draft, these middle parts of the paper can’t just come out of thin air; they need to be introduced and concluded in a way that makes sense to your reader.
Your introduction and conclusion act as bridges that transport your readers from their own lives into the “place” of your analysis. If your readers pick up your paper about education in the autobiography of Frederick Douglass, for example, they need a transition to help them leave behind the world of Chapel Hill, television, e-mail, and The Daily Tar Heel and to help them temporarily enter the world of nineteenth-century American slavery. By providing an introduction that helps your readers make a transition between their own world and the issues you will be writing about, you give your readers the tools they need to get into your topic and care about what you are saying. Similarly, once you’ve hooked your readers with the introduction and offered evidence to prove your thesis, your conclusion can provide a bridge to help your readers make the transition back to their daily lives. (See our handout on conclusions.)
Note that what constitutes a good introduction may vary widely based on the kind of paper you are writing and the academic discipline in which you are writing it. If you are uncertain what kind of introduction is expected, ask your instructor.
Introduction #1: The Quote
I chose to open this post with a quote not because I’m a fan of Catcher in the Rye. Truth be told, I’m not the biggest Catcher fan (despite my personal appreciation for Salinger’s immense literary talent and commitment to being a hardcore recluse).
The real reason I chose to open with that quote is because introductory quotes are a lazy but highly effective way of grabbing your reader’s attention without doing any real work – especially when the quote in question has a negative or otherwise memorable tone, as Salinger’s (or rather, his protagonist Holden Caulfield’s) does.
Before you’ve even read the quote in its entirety, you’re already wondering what was so lousy about the quoted individual’s life, or what “all that David Copperfield crap” really means and why the person being quoted doesn’t really feel like going into it.
Why Is This Type of Introduction So Effective?
Before we get into why this technique is so effective, it’s worth mentioning that opening with a quote only works well if the quote itself is interesting. There’s no point using a quote as your introduction if it’s something boring or predictable.
Aside from the quote itself, which should ideally be as attention-grabbing as possible, the fact that quotation marks are used indicates – obviously – that a specific individual said those words. It may not sound like it, but this can be very enticing to the reader, encouraging them to read on to see who said it. This is especially true if the quote is controversial or contrarian.
Let’s say you’re writing a piece about the potential impact of artificial intelligence on human society. Sure, you could open with a bland, generic introduction about how AI and technology have revolutionized the world as we know it, but you could also let someone else do the talking for you.
“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”
The quote above is one of many such memorable insights offered by technologist Elon Musk about the potentially existential threat posed by AI. Yes, it’s a little sensationalist – Musk certainly knows how to leverage provocative language to great effect – but it’s also a lot more interesting than most of the introductions I’ve read in articles on the topic. (Note that this particular quote was not used as an introduction in any piece I’ve found or read on the topic, and is used solely for illustrative purposes.)
It’s worth noting that this technique can be a little tricky or unorthodox within the context of established journalistic conventions. As anyone who’s ever worked with me as an editor could tell you, I’m a stickler for the correct attribution of quotes, which demands that, in most cases, the person being quoted should be identified after the first complete sentence. If we follow this convention (which we should, unless we have a very good reason not to), our example quote from Musk (with additions italicized) would read:
“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” Elon Musk said during an interview at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium in 2014. “In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out.”
Notice how Salinger’s opening quote from Catcher in the Rye is a single sentence? This allowed me to include it without worrying about correctly attributing the quote as I would have if I’d used Musk’s quote as my intro. If in doubt, talk to your editor – they’ll thank you for it later.
Introduction #2: The Statistic or Fun Fact
This technique is another powerfully effective way to grab your reader’s attention from the outset. It’s also one of the most commonly used introductions in a lot of marketing writing. This makes sense; it establishes the general topic of the piece in a fun way and offers the reader something snappy and memorable.
Why Is This Type of Introduction So Effective?
When it comes to content, whether a 500-word blog post or a 4,000-word long-form journalistic feature, some emotional triggers are more effective than others. In particular, there’s a scientific principle known as the von Restorff effect (named for the German pediatrician Hedwig von Restorff who first wrote of the phenomena in the early 1930s) which states that people tend to remember unusual things much more effectively than routine, expected things.
This is an extension of our natural survival instincts; our brains are wired to perceive strange or unusual things as potential threats, making them much more memorable as whatever strange thing we’re fixated on might kill us. It’s also why, if you don’t take much else away from this post, I can practically guarantee that you’ll remember the Psycho toilet-flushing fact, which you can and should use to impress your friends at your next get-together at the pub.
Here at WordStream, we use this technique a great deal, and not only in introductions. To this day, I still remember that you’re 475 times more likely to survive a plane crash than you are to click on a banner ad – a fact I first included in a post for the WordStream blog back in 2014. Admittedly, I had to look up the publication date of that post, but I didn’t need to double-check the statistic itself because it’s just that memorable.
Take care, however, to select your facts and statistics carefully. In the banner ad example above, this stat isn’t just memorable because of the staggering odds against you clicking on a banner ad, but because it’s framed within the context of surviving a plane crash – a particularly striking hypothetical scenario, and one that aligns closely with the survival instincts I mentioned earlier. Merely tossing in a statistic about how many daily active users Facebook has, for example, will not have the same effect. Just as you should think carefully about the quotes you use in your introductions, choose your statistics with similar care.
 Business leadership has been described as the ‘ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to the effectiveness and success of the organisations of which they are members’ (House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman & Gupta, 2004, p. 63). Whether this ability is something a person is born with, or whether it is something that a person can learn, has been the subject of considerable debate. Kambil (2010) has outlined two categories of leadership attributes that help to frame the discussion: ‘traits’ (mostly innate) and ‘skills’ which can be developed through experience or training.  This essay will draw on the trait theory of leadership to argue that that leaders are first born, but then must be made.  While good business leaders share certain traits that are essential to success, including ‘curiosity, courage, perseverance, personal ethics and confidence’ (Kambil, 2010, p.43), they also need learnable skills, such as communication, negotiation and conflict resolution, that are only developed through practice. A potential leader should develop their natural traits as well as learn and practise skills which will help them to persuade, equip and inspire others to realise their vision.
Check your understanding View
Key features of an introduction
Read the paragraph in the accordion below and see if you can identify the key features of an introduction. This is an introduction written in response to the essay question: ‘Can Rome’s actions towards Carthage be described as defensive imperialism?’
Writing a body paragraph
The body of the essay is where you fully develop your argument. Each body paragraph should contain one key idea or claim, which is supported by relevant examples and evidence from the body of scholarly work on your topic (i.e. academic books and journal articles).
How do I structure paragraphs?
The TEECL structure provides an effective way of organising a paragraph. TEECL stands for Topic sentence, Explanation, Evidence, Comment, and Link. You may find it helpful to add C for Comment before Link. A paragraph structured this way would contain the following:
- Topic sentence – the first sentence in a body paragraph that tells the reader what the main idea or claim of the paragraph will be.
- Explanation – Explain what you mean in greater detail.
- Evidence – Provide evidence to support your idea or claim. To do this, refer to your research. This may include: case studies, statistics, documentary evidence, academic books or journal articles. Remember that all evidence will require appropriate citation.
- Comment – Consider the strengths and limitations of the evidence and examples that you have presented. Explain how your evidence supports your claim (i.e. how does it ‘prove’ your topic sentence?).
- Link – Summarise the main idea of the paragraph, and make clear how this paragraph supports your overall argument.